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Friday, November 17, 2017

ENGLISH MONARCHY | Nov. 17, Elizabeth Becomes Queen after Mary, 1558

November 17, 2017 – This day in 1558, Queen Elizabeth I became England's monarch. Her late father, Henry VIII, had broken with the Catholic Church to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn.

He wanted a male heir. Elizabeth when born was a disappointment. He declared Elizabeth illegitimate and had Anne Boleyn beheaded.

England almost broke out in civil war after the death of Henry VIII.  First Edward VI ruled from the age of nine. The adults who ruled in his name tried to impose Protestantism on the country, including a common prayer book. He died in 1553 at 15 of tuberculosis.

Edward VI specified in his will that he wanted Lady Jane Grey to succeed him as Queen, probably because she was a staunch Protestant. However, Mary had so much popular support that the directive was overturned within two weeks (she is called the "nine-day queen" but in fact her reign was a few days longer).

Instead of Jane, Elizabeth’s half-sister, Mary Tudor, came to power, for a reign nearly as short  as Edward VI. Although she was called "Bloody" Mary, she was not as reckless as her father when it came to making use of the executioner in the Tower of London. Mary tried to restore England to allegiance to the Pope, and she met with resistance. She died five years after becoming queen, leaving behind continued divisions in the country.

Because Elizabeth was a potential heir to the king, her life was in danger from birth. Mary had her in prison for a while. When Elizabeth took the throne, she was 25. She restored England to Protestantism, yes, but she had the good sense not to hunt down Catholics. She required attendance at the Church of England on Sunday, and the same prayer book, but people could believe what they wished.

Easing restrictions on theaters, she opened the way for Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare. It was a time of peace. With the invention of the Gutenberg press, people could afford books. Elizabeth helped the English to have pride in their history and language. Her 45-year reign was one of the great English eras. She said to her subjects late in life:
Though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my crown: that I have reigned with your loves. And though you have had, and may have, many mightier and wiser princes sitting in this seat; yet you never had, nor shall have any that will love you better.
She also said:
I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too. 
England was less divided at the end of her reign. She was the last of the Tudors. How much the country owed to her would become crystal clear after her death, as internal strife intensified under James I, Charles I and the Parliamentary rule of Oliver Cromwell. This was a time when many English people left for the American colonies to escape the religious wars in the Mother Country.